Radiant Vermin
Review by Willard Manus

L.A.’s newest theatre company, Door Number 3, hits a home-run on its first at-bat with its production of RADIANT VERMIN, now running at the Odyssey Theatre. Written by British playwright Philip Ridley, the play is about as savage an attack on petty bourgeois values as you’ll ever encounter.

The action of this ur-black comedy largely takes place within the confines of an old house (skeletal design by Pete Hickok),where a young couple, Ollie (Kapil Talwalker) and Jill (Britt Harris), learn that they can have the house for nothing, thanks to a government scheme to repopulate and “reconfigure” a run-down
neighborhood. The house may be lacking water and electricity, they are told by the brisk, officious government official, Miss Dee (Laura Faye Smith), but it is theirs for the asking, as long as they agree to renovate it. Once that happens, Miss Dee asserts, other young couples will follow suit and the neighborhood will
eventually return to life.

From that seemingly rational plan much irrationality follows. The house, it turns out, was once a hang-out for the local homeless. When one of them turns up (offstage) and makes threatening noises, Ollie, with kitchen knife in hand, goes to scare him off. A tussle ensues and Ollie kills the man. There is a magical result from this ghastly act: the fridge Ollie and Jill have been craving suddenly materializes–-as well as the electricity to power it. Ollie and Jim discover that the more “vermin” they kill, the more consumer goods will come their way. This presents them with a bit of a moral dilemma: is it worth killing another
human being to get a fancy couch for your living room? They quickly decide that it sure as hell is.

So our heroes embark on a killing spree, one which not only rids the neighborhood of its vermin but enables them to furnish their dream house. That in turn attracts other yuppies who begin to purchase the other ramshackle houses in the ‘hood and glitz them up. The government reclamation plan has
achieved its goal: the neighborhood becomes a “hot spot” for upwardly mobile couples, who spend their time competing to see who can amass the most toys.

Ridley’s all-out assault on capitalism’s predatory values keeps turning more savage as the play goes on, aided by the tour-de-force performances of Talwalker and Harris, who dazzle as they handle the playwright’s rat-tat-tat dialogue with consummate skill and ease, sometimes firing it at each other, other times directly at the audience. Ridley breaks the fourth wall when he pleases, tells his story without props or set pieces, just keeps the satire
going at breakneck speed, mixing it with horror and blood, but
always somehow managing to get laughs. Above all, he (and director Tim True) make sure not to let the audience off the hook. You’re just as greedy and covetous as Ollie and Jill, they remind us.

So don’t go home feeling smug and superior.

(Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W. LA. Call 310-477-2055 x2 or visit dn3theatre.org)